HC Deb 27 July 1914 vol 65 cc936-9

I rise to ask the Foreign Secretary a question of which I have given him notice: whether he would communicate any information to the House as to the situation which exists between Austria and Servia?


The House will, of course, be aware through the public Press of what the nature of the situation in Europe is at this moment. I think that it is due to the House that I should give in short narrative form the position which His Majesty's Government have so far taken up.

Last Friday morning I received from the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador the text of the communication made by the Austro-Hungarian Government to the Powers, which has appeared in the Press, and which included textually the demand made by the Austro-Hungarian Government upon Servia.

In the afternoon I saw other Ambassadors, and expressed the view that, as long as the dispute was one between Austria-Hungary and Servia alone, I felt that we had no title to interfere, but that, if the relations between Austria-Hungary and Russia became threatening, the question would then be one of the peace of Europe: a matter that concerned us all.

I did not then know what view the Russian Government had taken of the situation, and without knowing how things were likely to develop I could not make any immediate proposition; but I said that, if relations between Austria-Hungary and Russia did become threatening, the only chance of peace appeared to me to be that the four Powers—Germany, France, Italy, and Great Britain, who were not directly interested in the Servian question—should work together both in St. Petersburgh and Vienna simultaneously to get both Austria-Hungary and Russia to suspend military operations while the four Powers endeavoured to arrange a settlement.

After I had heard that Austria-Hungary had broken off diplomatic relations with Servia, I made by telegraph yesterday afternoon the following proposal, as a practical method of applying the views that I had already expressed:—

I instructed His Majesty's Ambassadors in Paris, Berlin, and Rome to ask the Governments to which they were accredited whether they would be willing to arrange that the French, German, and Italian Ambassadors in London should meet me in a Conference to be held in London immediately to endeavour to find a means of arranging the present difficulties. At the same time, I instructed His Majesty's Ambassadors to ask those Governments to authorise their representatives in Vienna, St. Petersburgh, and Belgrade to inform the Governments there of the proposed Conference, and to ask them to suspend all active military operations pending the result of the Conference.

To that I have not yet received complete replies, and it is, of course, a proposal in which the co-operation of all four Powers is essential. In a crisis so grave as this, the efforts of one Power alone to preserve the peace must be quite ineffective.

The time allowed in this matter has been so short that I have had to take the risk of making a proposal without the usual preliminary steps of trying to ascertain whether it would be well received. But, where matters are so grave and the time so short, the risk of proposing something that is unwelcome or ineffective cannot be avoided. I cannot but feel, however, assuming that the text of the Servian reply as published this morning in the Press is accurate, as I believe it to be, that it should at least provide a basis on which a friendly and impartial group of Powers, including Powers who are equally in the confidence of Austria-Hungary and of Russia, should be able to arrange a settlement that would be generally acceptable.

It must be obvious to any person who-reflects upon the situation that the moment the dispute ceases to be one between Austria-Hungary and Servia and becomes one in which another Great Power is involved, it can but end in the greatest catastrophe that has ever befallen the Continent of Europe at one blow: no one can say what would be the limit of the issues that might be raised by such a conflict, the consequences of it, direct and; indirect would be incalculable.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is true that this morning the German Emperor accepted the principle of mediation which he has proposed?


I understand that the German Government are favourable to the idea of mediation in principle as between Austria-Hungary and Russia, but that as to the particular proposal of applying that principle by means of a Conference which I have described to the House, the reply of the German Government has not yet been received.